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What Is the Treatment for a Kidney Tumor?

By M. West
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Treatment for a kidney tumor will depend upon its size and the overall health of the patient. About 30% of tumors in this area are benign, but, since many of these can become cancerous, they are usually surgically removed. The first line of treatment for most cases of kidney cancer is surgery, either removing the tumor or removing the entire kidney. For patients where surgery may be too dangerous, several alternatives are available, including freezing or heating the cancer cells, various types of drug therapy, or a procedure to block the tumor's blood supply.

One of the surgical modes of treatment for a kidney tumor is called a nephrectomy. In a radical nephrectomy, not only is the kidney removed, but also a margin of healthy tissue and the related lymph nodes as well. Additionally, the adrenal gland may be removed if it looks like the tumor has spread that far. The surgery can be performed either through one large incision, or laparoscopically. A laparoscopic nephrectomy is administered through a few small incisions with the aid of a video camera and tiny surgical instruments.

The other type of surgery for a kidney mass is called a partial nephrectomy, which is the removal of the tumor from the kidney. This involves removing only the kidney tumor along with a small border of healthy tissue around it. Like a nephrectomy, this nephron-sparing surgical intervention can also be administered either through one large incision or through laparoscopic means. A partial nephrectomy is recommended when the tumor is small or when only one kidney is present.

Other options are available for treatment of a kidney tumor when surgery is too dangerous. A procedure called embolization may be used, which prevents the blood supply from reaching the tumor. Cryoablation may be considered, which involves cooling or freezing the cancer cells. Another alternative is radio-frequency ablation, which is the application of heat to cancer cells. Adequate long-term data regarding the safety and effectiveness of the latter two procedures has not yet been published.

Treatment for kidney cancer that has advanced or is recurrent can involve different means. Surgery will be employed to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Biological therapy, or drugs used to stimulate the body's immune system, may be used. Another choice is targeted therapy, which is medication used to block abnormal signals in cancer cells that lead to their proliferation. Chemotherapy, which is the use of drugs that eradicate cancer cells, may be used both before and after surgery.

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Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On Mar 02, 2012

There are certainly situations in which total kidney removal would be the best option. However, that can create problems down the line for the patient.

I worked with a man who found out he had a huge tumor on one kidney. Since he appeared to be otherwise healthy, he had the whole thing removed, because his doctor figured he would be fine with just the one kidney.

Years later, though, he developed some sort of kidney disease and needed a transplant. He had to rely heavily on dialysis, since he only had the one sick kidney.

His brother gave him a kidney, but after a couple of weeks, his body rejected it. He died, and his family wished that he had never had the first kidney removed.

This makes me think that the other treatments would be better options. Even if the tumors are huge, I have heard that cryoablation has been effective at treating them.

By OeKc05 — On Mar 01, 2012

@Oceana – A transplant is not an option for a cancer patient. Even though kidney transplants are among the most common and highly successful kind, a person with cancer is just too weak to endure such a dramatic surgery.

My mother had kidney cancer, and I would have given her one of mine in a heartbeat, but her doctor said it could not be done. He used cryoablation instead, and it did get rid of the cancer cells.

The surgeon inserted a few needles into her kidney, and he injected some sort of gas to freeze the tumor to death. She had a bruise on her skin afterward, but that was the only side effect.

The tumor was four inches wide. I'm glad that they found it and got rid of it when they did, because to me, that sounds like a pretty big tumor.

By Oceana — On Feb 29, 2012

Are kidney transplants ever done on people with kidney tumors? My friend has kidney cancer, and one of his tumors is so large that he needs to have the whole kidney removed. However, he has a smaller tumor in his other kidney.

Surgery just sounds dangerous in this situation, but it seems to me that if he had a new, healthy kidney to rely on, he would have a better chance of overcoming the cancer. Having one kidney gone and only part of another to work with would be just too much.

If I knew that he could have a transplant, I would get tested to see if I'm a match. I have no kidney problems, and I'm sure I could do without one of them to save his life.

By Perdido — On Feb 29, 2012

I have a genetic kidney disease that makes me more at risk for developing kidney cancer than most people. Because of this, my doctor recommended that I get an ultrasound of my kidneys every three years.

Last year, the ultrasound technician found a tumor. It was a sizable one, but since my kidney function is below normal, it would have been too dangerous for me to have the entire kidney removed, and surgery could have been too traumatic.

So, my doctor decided that embolization was the best technique. This was a safe way to kill the tumor without risking the health of my kidneys.

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